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System Overload: The Costs of Under-Resourcing Public Defense

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In Category : Criminal Justice Reform, Racial Equity

The 6th Amendment holds that people charged with a crime have a right to counsel, yet for many people who cannot afford private attorneys, there is a chasm between a “right to counsel” and a right to quality representation in judicial proceedings. Public defense systems serve millions of people in the United States every year. Yet many systems across the country have been in a state of “chronic crisis” for decades. The defender systems that people must rely on are too often completely overwhelmed; many defenders simply have too many cases, too little time and too few resources to provide quality or even adequate legal representation.

Ensuring that public defense systems have the resources necessary to provide quality representation to their clients can result in a more just system that reduces costs and incarceration and improves public safety and communities. Underresourced public defense systems can lead to increased incarceration, which can have serious costs for individuals, families, communities and taxpayers: for every $1 spent on public defense, taxpayers spend nearly $14 on corrections.

Quality public defense systems, on the other hand, can help to reduce unnecessary incarceration, saving money and having a positive impact on people and communities.

Below you can find the factsheet, which includes key findings and recommendations from the report, and the full report, both available for download.


Full Report
Press Release

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